Stories: Short & Sweet

It’s no secret i’m a lover of short stories. I’m also aware that a lot of other people aren’t. My love of short stories is so easy and natural that it baffles me a little why other people don’t seem to enjoy them as much as I do. I can’t understand what it is about them that’s unappealing. This left me wanting to articulate the reasons I think short stories are brilliant, so I had a go.

Most obviously, there is less commitment in reading a short story, and therefore a much quicker pay off. I can read a short story in minutes. I can experience the wonder, the tragedy, the humour, of a single narrative much more swiftly than with the commitment of reading an entire book. Even if I don’t enjoy the story, I haven’t wasted hours or days of my life reading it. They’re like chapters of a book, but with an entire set up and conclusion in each.

You get to the good stuff quicker because the whole story is the good stuff. Novels can take pages and pages and chapters and chapters to really get your teeth into, but short stories are wham and you’re there. Linked to this is the fact they draw you into the world and the characters so much quicker—you’re made to care and get invested from the get go, which leaves you no time to get bored.

Every word has to count in a short story. They’re not the place to wax lyrical about unimportant side notes or superfluous details. Everything mentioned in a good short story will add something to the narrative. It might be plot, character, mood—whatever the important things are to get across, and whatever it is the author is trying to convey in the small time they have your attention. It all matters.

My very favourite kind of short stories often have some sort of twist or unexpected revelation at the end. Something that makes you view the whole story in a new light, and makes a second read a whole new experience. It’s almost like you get two stories in one, and it can add such depth to such a short narrative. Of course, novels can have twists and turns and revelations, but re-reading short story is a much simpler task. There have been times i’ve finished a short story and gone straight back to the beginning to start it again. As much as i’ve loved any novel, i’ve never wanted re-read it immediately.

I find short stories can often make the reader work harder. The more thought and attention you put into a short story, the more satisfaction you get out of it. Novels can often over explain, or spell things out too much over time, but short stories won’t make it that easy for you. They give you all the pieces, but you might have to ponder on them before they fit together. They might, for example, not answer all the questions the story raises. They might leave the ending ambiguous or open to interpretation. I love endings like that anyway (be it novel, film, TV, whatever), but in a short short it forces you to take stock of the information you have been given and find new and extended meaning in it.

I just really love short stories okay? But don’t just take my rambling, biased word for it. Let these wonderful quotes persuade you to reading more short story collections…

A short story is a different thing altogether – a short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.

– Stephen King

A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.

– Edgar Allan Poe

Short fiction seems more targeted – hand grenades of ideas, if you will. When they work, they hit, they explode, and you never forget them.

– Paolo Bacigalupi

A short story is confined to one mood, to which everything in the story pertains. Characters, setting, time, events, are all subject to the mood. And you can try more ephemeral, more fleeting things in a story – you can work more by suggestion – than in a novel. Less is resolved, more is suggested, perhaps.

– Eudora Welty

A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.

– Neil Gaiman

My advice would be this: Don’t get all up in your head thinking short-short stories have to be poetry without the line breaks. Don’t put on your beret. Just tell a story, an actual story. Quick, while they’re still listening.

– Rebecca Makkai

A short story…can be held in the mind all in one piece. It’s less like a building than a fiendish device. Every bit of it must be cunningly made and crafted to fit together perfectly and without waste so it can perform its task with absolute precision. That purpose might be to move the reader to tears or wonder, to awaken the conscience, to console, to gladden, or to enlighten. But each short story has one chief purpose, and every sentence, phrase, and word is crafted to achieve that end.

– Michael Swanwick

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Fifty Shades of Blackout Poetry

I remember when I first came across blackout poetry. I thought it was a wonderful idea. Writing a poem from scratch had always felt quiet intimidating to me. Sitting with a blank piece of paper and my own mind, conjuring meaningful words, placing them in a rhythmic order, and having the whole thing tie up and make some sort of abstract sense… I’m better with prose. But having a page full of words, and pulling from that certain words to create short poems or single poetic lines… maybe even I could manage that!

My foray into blackout poetry started when I picked up an old Point Horror book for 50p. It wasn’t easy, and took me at least 15 minutes, but i’m quite pleased with what I managed…

Belinda thought she could turn out differently
She hated the world, the people
The stupid was too much
If only. If only. If only,

Along with having a go myself, I did like to search for, read, re-blog, and pin other people’s blackout poems. It was this way that I discovered the tumblr blogs Fifty Shades of Black and 50 Shades of REGRET, both of which focus of creating blackout poetry for the notorious book Fifty Shades of Grey.

From here, an idea began to form.

My sister is, for some reason I have still to fathom, a fan of Fifty Shades of Grey. She loves the books, has been to see the film (films? I can’t bring myself to google if and when the sequels were released), and, most astonishing of all, is not ashamed of this.

So, a year or two ago I make a decision. I had the fabulous idea to take a copy of Fifty Shades, and create blackout poetry with the whole thing. I would wrap this up and present it to my sister for her birthday. I am a genius.

I only hit a few snags.

First of all, I couldn’t bring myself to pull the book from a charity shop bookshelf and take it to the counter. I just… couldn’t. In the end, my mum picked up a copy for me. Phew! Secondly, I underestimated the amount of time it would take me to compose the damn poems. I wasn’t going to just cobble it half-arsed by throwing random words together—they had to make some sort of sense. And if the writing took ages, so did the blacking out of the words I didn’t want. In my infinite wisdom I decided to forgo plain old blackout, and broke out my colourful sharpie collection to turn these little poems into literal works of art. Thirdly—and really, this is the one that did me in—actually having to read the book was just an exhausting, cringe-worthy experience. I ended up giving up after 50 pages.

On the plus side, my sister got an already started blackout poetry art project for her birthday! She loved it, and has composed a few more since her birthday. However she’s a busy working mother with a multitude of hobbies, so she hasn’t yet finished the entire book.

The project was a lot of fun, though. I’d enjoy doing it again without the time pressures, and with a book I’d actually enjoy reading! I’ve picked out a few of my favourite of the blackout poems below. Of course, with it being Fifty Shades, a few of them are a bit… risqué. Let me know what you think of my efforts, and let me know if you’ve done any blackout poetry.

I scowl with frustration at
my wayward semi
I can’t blow this

I take him in
Oh!
I swallow and try to look professional
But he looks vaguely disappointed

I’m free
No man can limit me

I frown, I huff
He doesn’t talk
I check my watch
“I’ll see you later”
I leave

He’s fascinated by a sandwich
I scowl at him
A sandwich?

I watch him disappear
I’m glad he’s leaving me
It’s a lost cause

I flash a brief dazzling, unguarded, natural, all-teeth-showing, glorious smile.
But I don’t trust him

You make me weak
You push and pull me
I’m suffocating

His eyes are large
He’s watching me
He does not see me